We’ve all heard about the new theory of “the challenger sale,” and how you have to change your approach to challenge the buyer, if you want to be a rock star in sales today.

But the story is not always that simple, says John Doerr author of Wall St. Journal bestseller, Rainmaking Conversations, Influence, Persuade and Sell in any Situation, and President of Rain Group.

Doerr wanted to take a deeper look at what was going on, so his group did a study from the buyer’s perspective that measured the results of 700 B2B sales transactions from buyers responsible for $3.1 billion in annual purchases.

Here are the top seven factors that separate sales winners from 2nd-place finishers, according to his research.

1. Educating the buyer with new ideas or perspectives

“Since buyers can find out so much information on the web today, it’s more important for the seller to be able to provide new ideas and insights to the buyer,” notes Doerr.

“Buyers don’t need to be validated about something they already know is a good idea,” says Doerr. “It’s the newness of the idea of perspective that they find important.”

2. Collaborating with the buyer

“When a seller successfully collaborates, they actually become a key part of the buyer’s success,” says Doerr.

“A high level sales person has already done the work for the buyer and can step in and provide the buyer with a benchmark about what people in other companies are doing to get the results they are looking to achieve.”

3. Persuading the buyer to get results

Sellers still have to be able to show a buyer how the ROI for their product or service is well worth the expense and effort. “This basic ability is nothing new,” says Doerr. “It’s simply that the winners do a much better job of it.”

4. Listening to the buyer

Contrary to what the “challenger sale” theory argues, the standard sales skills of connecting and listening are still very necessary, according to Doerr. In fact these are important traits for laying groundwork during a complex sale.

“If you’re really good at offering new insights and educating the buyer about things they don’t know,” explains Doerr, “but you haven’t made a personal connection to the buyer by listening to their needs, the buyer isn’t likely to go with you.”

5. Understanding the buyer’s needs

This aspect of selling has changed, says Doerr. “Sellers are really good at diagnosing buyer’s problems and they do it all the time, so that part isn’t really going to set you apart.” What’s important now, Doerr says, is to go beyond diagnosing and solving problems, by really understanding “the big picture of where the buyer is trying to go.”

Highly successful sellers today focus on the dreams, aspirations and goals of the buyers, to provide more value than simply offering a solution. “They connect with what we call, ‘the new reality for clients.’ It’s where the buyer wants to be when it’s all said and done."

6. Helping the buyer avoid potential pitfalls

While every one sells to the ROI, Doerr’s research has found that “minimizing risk has risen greatly in importance and must become a core part of sales conversations.”

“Being honest with buyers about what can go wrong after they buy, builds trust and sets an expectation of what life will be like after they purchase.”

For every 100 times you find advice to sell “the return on investment,” you only find one piece of advice focused on minimizing the perception of risk for the buyer, says Doerr. But minimizing risk is key.

7. Crafting a compelling solution

Sellers still need to craft solutions to problems, notes Doerr. “Again, this is part of the gestalt of mainstream thinking in solution sales,” he says. But these steps are still necessary. “Imagine for a minute that someone is selling to you and you perceive the seller doesn’t understand your needs and doesn’t craft a compelling solution. Their chances of winning business from you are probably pretty slim.”

To learn more insights about how you can become a sale’s winner, download the free ebook at the button below. 

Content is based on a study by Shultz, M. and Doerr, J., What Sales Winners Do Differently, copyright 2013. RAIN Group.